You may not have known it, but last week I was gone. Our elders have given me the privilege of taking a study week to get away, prepare for our future sermon series, and to abide in Christ. While every week is meant to be an abiding week, last week I was able to enjoy it in a unique, undistracted way. Coming back, I’d like to share a brief passage from Romans 8 for our midweek devotion.
Wednesday, April 22nd
Larger Portion of Scripture - Romans 8
Focused Passage for Reflection - Romans 8:12-17
Reflecting on the Text:
In 1979, Bob Dylan famously wrote and sang “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The opening verse goes like this:
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody
Indeed, we all must serve somebody, and Romans 8:12-17 puts the options before us. Verse 12 opens by declaring us “debtors.” To be a debtor essentially means to owe a debt. It is to be obligated to another. It means to serve someone or something. But before the text tells us who or what those who are in Christ are to serve, it focuses on what we do not serve…the flesh.
To be a debtor to the flesh means to live according to the flesh. The flesh in this sense speaks of worldly things and worldliness. So to be a debtor to the flesh is to try and find life by satisfying the worldly desires of the flesh. The text makes clear what many of us know by experience…rather than giving life, those fleshly desires only lead to death. To refrain from living according to the flesh is to put those fleshly desires to death, and to seek life elsewhere.
But if we are not to serve the flesh, then who will we serve? Paul gives us two extreme options: the flesh or the Spirit. It is as if Dylan is translating for us: “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord.” Rather than being a debtor to the flesh, those who are in Christ are a debtor to the Spirit. This means we are led by the Spirit, and to be led by the Spirit is to live in abiding union with Christ through His Spirit in you.
This passage beautifully speaks to our union in Christ through the indwelling presence, and leadership of, the Spirit of Christ. And His presence, along with the outward manifestation of His presence displayed in our putting to death the deeds of the flesh, is a marker of our adoption as sons of God.
In this way, Paul speaks of the Spirit as the Spirit of adoption who affirms and encourages our intimacy with God (Father, Son, and Spirit). The Spirit-led life is a life of seeking to satisfy this (good) desire for intimacy while denying the (bad) desire for the flesh. In affirming and encouraging this desire for intimacy, the Spirit of adoption affirms the reality of our new identity in Christ and our place as co-heirs with Christ.
We have been given intimacy (oneness) in all things…including in His suffering. And maybe right now that is what we need to hear most because it gives context to the longing we feel. Are you longing for restoration? Are you longing for relationship? Are you experiencing suffering because you do not feel whole? This suffering is natural. It is right. And it is part of how the Spirit is continuing to shape us in Christlikeness because it will be in our shared glory with Christ when we fully and finally experience complete restoration and relationship.
During the current COVID induced interruption of our daily routines and tasks, some of us are asking “Who am I?” Those routines and tasks are gone, or changed, so where is my identity? Others have a different form of the same question. “Where will I find pleasure? My activities/hobbies/pastimes are gone. What now?” Some are finding new (fleshly) outlets. Maybe you’re beginning to find out they don’t give life either but are unsure where to turn, so you simply double down.
If any of this sounds familiar, look to Romans 8. See the flesh — Spirit contrast. One brings death, one gives life. One offers a fleeting hint of intimacy. One seals true intimacy. Paul gives us the contrast and then points us to the Spirit, calling us to live a blessed Spirit-led life.
Questions for personal reflection:
Where do you struggle with fleshly desires? Are those desires truly life-giving or have they been instruments of death?
How might this passage reorient your understanding of suffering in terms of the struggle between the desires of the flesh and the desire for the Spirit?